IRISH eyes were smiling on Sunderland University student Talitha Orlandi as she was chosen to take part in Ireland’s biggest pageant.
The 21-year-old pharmacy student, who is originally from County Westmeath, beat off tough competition at the regional heat to win a place in the finals of the Rose of Tralee.
Sunderland AFC defender and Irish international John O’Shea is among those who have shown their support for the beauty in her bid to steal the crown.
After winning the right to be Sunderland’s entrant in the Rose of Tralee at a contest held in Paddy Whacks in Green Terrace, Talitha competed against more than 50 fellow hopefuls in the regional finals held in Portlaoise, Ireland.
Seamus Whelan from Paddy Whacks, who runs the Wearside leg of the contest, said: “Talitha did really well in the regional finals, she came across as being a very natural, talented woman.
“This is the fourth time we have had a Sunderland entrant in the Rose of Tralee and the girls have always done well. Because she was chosen to compete in the grand final, she will tour Ireland with the other finalists to attend civic receptions in towns and cities on their way to Tralee where they will take part in a huge parade.
“The final will be broadcast live on TV. It’s the biggest live TV event in Ireland.”
He added: “I think Talitha stands a very good chance in the final. Speaking to people behind the scenes, she’s very popular.”
The Rose of Tralee is celebrated by Irish communities around the world and Talitha will be one of only two finalists to have made it through from a British heat.
If she wins the overall crown at the annual festival held in County Kerry she will become an ambassador for Ireland for the next year.
Seamus added: “The winner of the Rose of Tralee will go on to be a goodwill ambassador for the country for a year. It’s not just a beauty pageant. It’s about intelligence, personality and integrity first.”
The Rose of Tralee International Festival is based on the love song The Rose of Tralee, by William Mulchinock, a 19th century wealthy merchant who was in love with Mary O’Connor, his maid.
The festival as it is today stems from Tralee’s Carnival Queen, once a thriving annual town event, fallen by the wayside due to post-war emigration.
In 1957 Race Week Carnival was resurrected in Tralee, featuring a Carnival Queen. A year later a group of local business people met in Harty’s Bar in Tralee and decided to revamp the carnival in a way that would regenerate the town, encourage tourism and keep the race crowd in town overnight.
The new event would be called a festival and the carnival queen contest turned into a celebration of the Rose of Tralee song.
Young women would also be sought from outside Tralee and heats were held as far away as London, Birmingham, New York and Dublin with the help of local Kerry people living abroad.